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Story by Deb Seminary, contributing writer

Paraprofessional Appreciation Day honors paraprofessional educators, who may also be known as paras, instructional assistants, or teacher aides. Paraprofessionals support students with instruction, behavior, language, physical assistance, and more. They perform a variety of teaching-related tasks and, while they assist teachers in classrooms, they may also work independently.

Becoming a paraprofessional may be the best choice for someone who wants the teaching experience but may not be able take the time or have the resources to get a four-year degree. Paraprofessionals must possess a high school diploma or equivalent and meet other requirements set by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

One North Dakota paraprofessional works with older students who have Individualized Education Plans and are in a community-based program that helps students make the transition to independent living. The program is also a bridge for students who will transition to day services through a service provider agency.

“I have been a part of the transitioning process (to day services) several times over the course of my 29 years in the program,” she said. “The staff from the day services program will come and get to know the students, and we will also go to their facility to meet all of the staff and other individuals receiving services. I truly believe this is very beneficial for the students, especially where change can cause anxiety.

“We focus less on academics and more on job training, budgeting, balancing a checkbook, meal planning, grocery shopping, and other independent living skills,” she added. “Taking a group of students out to eat is one of my favorite activities. This allows them to practice ordering, paying for their meal, the importance of tipping, how to interact in a social setting, and most importantly, it teaches them to advocate for themselves in an appropriate way.”

She feels like an advocate for her students and says the most rewarding part of her job is to know she made a difference in their lives and may have played a part in their accomplishments.

Paraprofessionals work tirelessly to support students and teachers, so it is fitting we honor them for their time and talents. Take the time to thank the paras you know on Wednesday, April 6th.

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